Dogs will always be a partner to humanity. But for some people in need, a dog can also be a caregiver.
People experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD, autism, and more can benefit from a trained psychiatric service animal.
The ADA defines a service animal as one that assists a “physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Dogs are the most popular service animal and have helped thousands!
If you are considering taking home a service dog to help yourself or a loved one, there are many options: no one breed is suitable for everyone.
Check out our top ten recommendations for service dogs and how they each make a unique difference.
10 Best Breeds for Psychiatric Service Dog
These breeds are the go-to for most psychiatric patients. They cover all shapes and sizes and help a variety of disabilities.
Which one is right for you?
1) Labrador Retriever
Lab Retrievers are the #1 most popular dog in America. Their popularity comes from an unbeatable good nature and natural friendliness.
This dog forms a strong bond with its owner and is sensitive enough to understand wants and needs even without vocal commands.
Labrador Retrievers also grip very softly with their mouth, keeping objects intact and clean when fetching. Many people will appreciate slobber-free items, especially when gripping is difficult.
2) German Shepard
You might think of German Shepards as part of a police squad — but they are great partners for civilians too!
Famously easy to train, Shepards will pick up commands quickly and never forget.
This breed is powerful and can support the mobility impaired. Plus, their noses are so powerful they can pick up blood sugar changes!
Shepards are loving and attentive but require a short period of intense training to ensure they listen to all commands.
3) Standard Poodle
Poodles were originally hunting animals, so working closely with humans is in their blood.
Poodles consistently get high marks during obedience training—no wonder they are consistently winning competitions! But psychiatric service animals aren’t for winning; they are for working together.
Luckily, Poodles excel at fetching objects and picking up on emotional cues from their owner.
A hypoallergenic coat and little shedding also reduce the stress associated with cleaning or allergies.
4) Great Dane
A Great Dane’s biggest benefit is its size! For the mobility impaired, holding on to these giants provides much-needed stability.
Great Danes are also known to be extremely gentle and easy-going. For such a big animal, they have laid-back personalities that put even the chronically anxious at ease.
A Great Dane requires extra space; those in apartments may want to seek out a smaller breed.
5) Border Collie
Probably the smartest breed around, Border Collies can accomplish tasks that would stump other dogs.
Border Collies need to let out their bursting energy several times a day. That makes them great partners for those with depression who need help going outside or exercising. Keeping up with these dogs is a fun challenge that guarantees you a workout.
These dogs are tough to train and can be mischievous. Untrained Border Collies will naturally herd children and may nip at them to encourage this. However, as long as you have a rigorous training program, you won’t find a better partner from any other breed.
Boxers have a guard dog reputation, which can help those with social anxiety feel safe in stressful situations.
This breed is excellent for assisting those with attention deficit disorders as they can encourage focus and break repetitive ticks. Many people with autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder gravitate towards Boxers for this reason.
A Boxer might look tough, but it is a loyal and loving breed eager to help you!
7) Bernese Mountain Dog
Bernese Mountain Dogs are generally suitable for first-time owners due to their easy-going nature and outstanding intelligence.
These dogs love children too and are often protective of the humans with whom they form a bond.
Watch out though—these are big dogs and will need plenty of room to play, jump and run when not working. They are also shedding machines and will not be happy in warm climates.
But if you need a dog that is as cozy as a warm bed, these fluffy monsters will bring joy to your life!
8) Pit Bull
Unfortunately, Pit Bulls have a bad reputation for being “mean” dogs. In reality, these sweethearts pick up training quickly and are gentle and calm when raised in a loving home.
Pit Bulls and their cousins, American Staffordshire Terriers, have plenty of natural strength and are adept at assisting in manual tasks. Pit Bulls can retrieve medication, open doors, and even press emergency alarms.
Nervous owners will be thankful to walk down the street with an intimidating dog by their side (even if he’s a big softie at home)!
The smallest breed on this list, the Havanese, is an adorable ball of fluff.
Don’t take their cute looks for granted, though. Havanese are great playmates for children with autism who need a grounding force in their lives. They are smart enough to pick up emotional cues and are more than happy to give all the affection they have.
This is the only breed that needs cuddles just as much as you!
10) Golden Retriever
Circling back to another popular Retriever, the Golden Retriever is a perennial favorite of families everywhere.
They are bright, eager, and always looking for a job to do. With the help of a trainer, Golden Retrievers are excellent for people with PTSD that need a calming presence in their life. This breed can wake you up from nightmares and break you out of other stressful episodes.
These dogs are so popular. If you’ve seen a psychiatric service dog with a vest on the street, it was probably a Golden Retriever!
How to Choose the Right Breed for Psychiatric Service Dog
Now that you know what’s out there, it’s time to find the right dog for you!
While each breed has an ingrained personality, there are some factors you need to consider on an individual basis.
Find the Proper Size
If you require mobility assistance, a large dog will be able to help you throughout your day. The bigger the dog, the more security you will feel in new places.
But large dogs will become more expensive over time, and small dogs can often accomplish many of the same tasks.
A small dog is easier to care for and may be better at more specific tasks, for example, administering an individual pill.
Your home environment is also essential to consider. If you live in a cramped apartment, you need a dog that can be happy with limited space and frequent walks. If you live in a roomy house out in the suburbs, your dog can entertain themselves in the backyard.
The size is ultimately up to your personal needs. But know that no matter the size, housing providers can’t deny you access. You have protections for your service dog under the Fair Housing Act.
Look for a Suitable Temperament
A dog’s personality will be the most critical part of your decision.
Some dogs require plenty of attention all day. For those experiencing anxiety and depression, these breeds will keep you active and energetic. But if too much excitement overwhelms you, a gentle and independent creature will help keep you at ease.
A dog’s disposition can range from hyper to laconic, and it’s up to you to pick an animal that moves at your pace. Sometimes, it’s best to pick an animal with your opposite temperament to encourage the parts of you that stay hidden to be free.
Understand Your Specific Needs
Knowing your disability is essential for pairing up with a dog. Speak to a medical professional who can help you create a support plan that works for you.
Find a trainer that has experience teaching your needs to your preferred breed. Not all trainers know all dogs, and not all trainers can teach all tasks. You will have to collaborate to perfect your plan.
Your needs might also change over time. As you make progress, you might only need the love of an Emotional Support Animal. Learn the difference between an ESA and a service animal.
Other things to be aware of are fur and allergies. If an excess of fur will stress you out, pick a short-haired dog. If you have bad allergies, there are hypoallergenic animals out there for you.
Be clear about your needs and wants, and create a list with must-haves and nice-to-haves to help you find your new best friend.
Embrace Your New Friend
Petting a dog is proven to relax your mind and body: your heart rate slows, blood pressure decreases, and positive hormones are released.
Most owners know right away if their bond will last. Trust your instincts and stick with the pup who makes you feel at ease and comfortable.
If you are serious about getting paired up with a service dog, it’s time to register with the ESA Registration of America.
We provide the letters and official documentation that you need to get the recognition you deserve.
A psychiatric service dog can change your life. Your new dog can help you navigate the world, detect and soften episodes, recognize seizures, focus sensory intake, and more.
Life with a service dog is better. Find your partner today.